Joseph Bruce Ismay (December 12, 1862 - October 17, 1937) was a British businessman who served as Managing Director of the White Star Line of steamships. He travelled on (and survived) the doomed maiden voyage of his company's marquee ocean liner, the RMS Titanic.
Ismay was born at Crosby, Merseyside. He was the son of Thomas Ismay, the senior partner in Ismay, Imrie and Company and the founder of the White Star Line, and his wife, Margaret. The younger
Ismay was educated at Elstree School and Harrow, then tutored in France for a year. He was then apprenticed at his father's office for four years, after which he toured the world. He then went
to New York City as the company representative there, eventually rising to the rank of agent.
In 1888, Ismay married Julia Florence Schieffelin of New York, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. Three years later, he
returned with his family to the United Kingdom and became a partner in his father's firm, Ismay, Imrie and Company. In 1899, Thomas Ismay died, and his son became head of the family business. Bruce Ismay had a head for business, and the White Star
Line flourished under his leadership. In addition to his ship business, Ismay also served as a director of several other companies.
However, in 1901, he was approached by Americans who wished to build an international shipping conglomerate. Ismay agreed to merge his firm
into the International Mercantile Marine Company.
In 1907, Ismay met with Lord Pirrie of the Harland & Wolff shipbuilding company of Belfast. Together, they planned to build a steamer that would outdo the RMS Lusitania and the RMS Mauretania, the recently-unveiled marvels of White Star's chief competitor, Cunard Line. Ismay's new type of ship would not only be fast, but would also have huge steerage capacity and luxury unparalleled in the
history of oceangoing steamships. The latter condition was largely meant to woo the wealthy and prosperous middle class. Three
ships were planned. One would be White Star Line's pride and joy, the RMS Titanic, which began its maiden voyage from
Southampton, England to New York City on April 10, 1912.
Ismay usually accompanied his ships on their maiden voyages, and Titanic was no different. When the ship hit an
iceberg south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and started sinking on the night of April 14, he was rescued in Lifeboat C. Taken aboard the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia, he arrived in New York on the 18th. Ismay later testified at Titanic disaster inquiry hearings held by both the U.S. Senate (chaired by Senator William Alden Smith) and the British Board of Trade (chaired by Lord Mersey).
After being picked up by the Carpathia, Ismay was led to the cabin belonging to the ships's doctor, which he reportedly
did not leave for the entire journey. He ate nothing solid, received only a single visitor, and was kept under the influence
of opiates for the entire journey.
After the disaster, he was savaged by both the American and the English press for deserting the ship while women and children
were still on board. Some papers called him "J. Brute Ismay", some ran negative cartoons of him deserting the ship. London
society ostracized him, and labeled him one of the biggest cowards in history. In 1913, he resigned as president of International
Mercantile Marine, to be succeeded by Harold Sanderson.
After the Titanic tragedy, Ismay continued to be active in maritime affairs. He inaugurated a cadet ship called
Mersey used to train officers for the merchant navy, donated 11,000 pounds sterling to start a fund for lost seamen,
and in 1919 gave 25,000 pounds sterling to set up a fund to recognize the contribution of merchant mariners in World War I.
A resident of Liverpool, J. Bruce Ismay died on October 17, 1937 of a cerebral thrombosis. He is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in London.
In the 1997 film Titanic, J. Bruce Ismay was portrayed by actor Jonathan Hyde. He has also been portrayed on film by Frank Lawton in A Night to Remember.
There are a number of controversies concering the actions of Ismay on board the Titanic.
Passengers have stated that during the voyage they heard him pressuring Captain Edward J. Smith to go faster, in order to arrive in New York ahead of schedule, so as to generate some free press about the new liner. One
passenger claimed to have seen Ismay flaunting one of the iceberg warnings at dinner time, waving it around, then placing
it back in his pocket. However these claims are not supported by evidence from any of the surviving officers, and the testimony
of some passengers is at best unreliable and at worst revealed to be invention.
During the sinking, Ismay assisted the crew in loading and lowering the lifeboats. When there were no female passengers
in the vicinity of the deck he and another first class passenger were invited to board one of the collapsible lifeboats if
they took the place of one of the seamen. This incident would haunt Ismay for the rest of his life, as there were still women
and children present on the ship, including his own (female) secretary.